My own choice is for Champagne. This is the wine for celebration. The most commonly found Champagnes are ‘Brut’ which means very dry and it may be too dry for guests that do not often drink wine. Look for Demi-Sec Champagne as that is quite a lot sweeter and may be comfortably drunk by those that dislike acidity in wine. As an alternative. a good, inexpensive sparkler is Prosecco. This Italian fizz is soft and inviting and becoming very fashionable.
However, in the bleak midwinter when it's icy cold outside your visitors might prefer a warming mulled wine on arrival. They are easy to prepare, see my recipe for Gluhwein.
Wines for starters
I’d go for a white wine. My reasoning is that if you serve red with the main course then those that prefer white may continue drinking the starter wine. Pinot Grigio is popular with new wine drinkers, it is easy going and will match with almost anything. Regular wine drinkers may prefer Pinot Gris, its other more expressive incarnation. Viognier from Virginia, if available, won’t disappoint.
Main Course wines
Red. The old wine matching rules suggest white wine with white meat. But if you’re having turkey or chicken they make a great background for a decent red. Pinot Noir is a good choice for most, being a light bodied red. Another style is a big soft wine that’s not dry and acidic, such as Apothic Red, that I reviewed here An aged Bordeaux or Burgundy, or a bottle aged California Cabernet, would be a star but don’t serve it unless you know your guests will appreciate its nuances. If beef is the main attraction then a Malbec from Argentine or Shiraz from Australia or California will please the red wine aficionados.
I do like a sweet wine with dessert. Tokay (Tokaji on the label) from Hungary is deliciously sweet and good value. Tokay comes in 500ml bottles which is two thirds the size of a standard bottle and a little goes a long way as pours are small. An ice-wine from Canada or New York will impress, but they cost serious money.
After Dinner Drinks
Port is traditional, lovely rich warming and sweet, but remember this fortified wine is high in alcohol at 20% abv.
Above all your guests should be comfortable so have an alternative for backup if a wine isn’t to their taste and don’t forget the non-drinkers. Sparkling grape-juice or English elderflower-cordial are grown up drinks the kids can indulge in.
And if you are looking for a present for a wine lover, may I suggest one of my books, shown below.
Ask questions and talk about wine on our forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.